How pharmacists are providing support to their patients

All pharmacies in New Zealand are open during the COVID-19 Level 4 lockdown. They are considered by the government to be an essential service and are still delivering patient counselling, providing health and medicine information, supplying over-the-counter and prescription medicines and some are also administering flu vaccinations.

As the COVID-19 pandemic developed, enormous pressure was put on pharmacies, particularly in the days leading up to the Level 4 lockdown. As well as coping with unprecedented demand for prescription medicines as people panicked and stockpiled in the same way as they did with supermarket items, pharmacies had to rapidly adapt the way they operated. In a matter of days the pharmacies you were used to visiting were transformed in order to provide pharmacy staff and the public with high levels of safety. Pharmacies now look very different to the way they did before the COVID-19 pandemic.

At all pharmacies, prominent posters and signs are on display to explain COVID-19 information and to let people know how the pharmacy’s new services will be delivered. Hand sanitisers are provided for people to use before and after entering the pharmacy. Do not be offended if you are asked questions by the pharmacy staff at the door or before you are allowed to enter the pharmacy. Pharmacies should be triaging people – asking why they are visiting the pharmacy and whether they are experiencing any symptoms that may be due to COVID-19.

In many pharmacies there is a strict “one-in, one out” rule where only one member of the public is allowed in store at one time, and for a limited time period. Larger pharmacies may be able to have more than one customer enter at a time, as they have more room to maintain the 2 metre distancing. Some pharmacies have a system where patients must wait at the door and be served by a retail staff member one-at-a-time. Other pharmacies have installed physical barriers using plexiglass or see-through hygiene shields to create a barrier between the pharmacy staff and patients. There are also some pharmacies that have a hatch-type mechanism that can be used as a contactless drop-off and pick up point, while others even have a drive-through service. At all times a physical separation of 2 metres between people must be adhered to.

Any payment transactions are contactless where possible, with pharmacies using Paywave, wireless Eftpos terminals, baskets or bowls to place money in, or allowing online payments.

Pharmacies are discouraging the self-selection of products. This is to ensure that the product you buy from a pharmacy has had minimal contact with other people. A patient tells a pharmacy staff member what they would like to buy and the staff member fetches the item/s at the patient’s request. Many pharmacies are already set up with online purchasing and delivery, while others have developed a shopping service, where a patient calls the pharmacy, lists the items they need and either the patient collects the goods from the pharmacy or it is delivered to them.

Many pharmacies have changed their opening hours. Some have increased their daily opening hours to allow patients more time to visit throughout the day. Some may now have reduced weekend hours to ensure staff have an adequate rest period, so check online to see what the pharmacy opening hours are.

PHARMAC has changed the dispensing rules to allow only one month of prescription medicines to be dispensed however pharmacists are allowed to make exceptions. For people who have mobility issues, are elderly or immunocompromised, or live rurally, pharmacists may give these patients a three month supply of medicines.

Pharmacies, PHARMAC and medicine suppliers are all working very closely to ensure there is a continuous medicine supply for all New Zealanders. While it is far from ‘business as usual’ New Zealand pharmacists are doing their absolute best to keep themselves and the public safe and healthy during these unprecedented times.

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.